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What qualities matter when buying headphones?

Grado_SR60i_headphonesI have previously published a post on “What qualities and parameters matter when searching for and buying the right home audio speakers?“. How about what qualities and parameters that matter when searching for and buying the right headphones? This should be be highly interesting for many buyers considering market indications that the audio industry has seen a tremendous growth of headphones sales over the past few years (most probably due to the less expensive way to achieve better sound experience for personal use and the march of portable electronics e.g. iPods and smartphones). I have modified (Sound quality unchanged) my equivalent list for speakers to answer this question: What qualities and parameters are important when searching for and buying the right headphones? Here is the list:

  • Sound quality (Acoustic characteristics)
    • Bass (deep, punchy, fast, accurate, extension, control)
      • Well control and extremely accurate lead to a perception of deeper bass than there might actually be)
    • Midrange (space and detail: e.g. vocal, piano sound)
    • Tweeter (High end, hights): crystal clear, detail, smooth, polished, off axis performance (e.g. where frequency response does not drop off nearly as rapidly as with other bookshelf models).
    • Imaging (precise), Spatial (spaciousness), holographic
    • Soundstaging (uncompressed, three dimensionality)
    • Timbral accuracy (good, bad, etc.) (e.g. piano sounding real)
    • Details
    • Clear & transparent
    • Disappear in the room
    • Dynamic: play loud without distortion, loosing
    • revealing of recording material quality/character
    • Tonal balance: (Neutral, not warm but also not cool, sounds like the frequency response from top to bottom is quite linear)
    • Tonal integration (mids and tops transition unnoticeable)
    • Minimum coloration: honest sound, realistic reproduction from the sonic & music point of view, boxy coloration
    • Engaging (long listening)
  • Environment sensitive/demanding (indoor / outdoor use)
  • System sensitive/demanding
  • Design and finish
  • Build quality
  • Features (e.g. Active Noise Control, ANC, etc.)
  • Improvement/tweaking possibility (e.g. replacing the ear cushions, etc.) 
  • Comfort (long listening without ears getting hurt)
  • Price (value for money)

Write a comment and say what you think about this list, does it lack any parameter / factor, should it be modified in any way, etc.


Grado SR60i headphones review: your sub $100 entry ticket to the audiophile world

What Grado SR60i headphones reminds me of

Back in 1995, I remember my friend Mattias had a pair of Sennheiser headphones Model HD 400 (or 414) with yellow pads which he really enjoyed the sound quality of. Back then I could not fully figure out why he preferred them over my awesome, and sexier looking, Sennheiser headphones Model HD 320. Well, I gradually figured out: it was due to parameters such as neutral, true, and more accurate and life-like sound quality.

How I got to know Grado Labs

Years passed by and little did I know, being a Sennheiser fan, about this little (less known in Europe) New Jersey-based vendor called Grado Labs and their headphones until I saw what What HI-FI magazine had to say about their Grado SR60i headphones. Afterwards, I went through a long series of highly teasing, amazing, and almost unbelievable user reviews on

My first encounter with Grado SR60i headphones

I went to the computer store at UCI, University of California at Irvine, which was the nearest reseller location to me, to give them a listen. The guy at the store told me they had a demo pair (from around 8 years ago) that was functional but was a little worn out. Indeed it was, it looked like it had been hit by a 24-wheels truck and then misused by 100.000 people at a Walmart store; one of the cans was completely loose so I had to hold it against my ear. The environment was quite noisy, but the first notes of a jazz song from the radio channel (just 128kbps) played through a MacBook Pros iTunes revealed to me that the reviewers on Amazon had discovered an audiophile product that is possibly unbeatable at its $79 price point.

Look and feel of Grado SR60i headphones

My first impression of look and feel of Grado SR60i headphones easily correlated with Grado Labs’ claims that these cans are made to produce high quality audioWhy, you ask, because of signatures like its simple and functional box and packaging, thick cables, and general build quality and a retro look that goes beyond the Soviet Soyuz rocket era. However, its build quality is not top-notch compared to World-War II headphones which can be easily understood by comparing to photos of, say, the aviation headsets (from around 1930s) seen in the movie Amelia (2009) by Hillary Swank and Richard Gere; of course with no respect to a build cost comparison. I personally really like the retro look and feel of the Grado SR60i headphones but wish the quality of some of its building blocks was just a tad better; more about a wishlist later.

Sound performance

Here is the fact that users and fans already know: Sonically, Grado SR60i headphones are absolutely awesome performers. In fact most probably the world’s best headphones under $100 and one of the most valuable in the $$$ price range. Here is a note of my first sonic impressions: beautifully neutral and uncolored (flat frequency response), revealing, details, capable of differentiating sound sources and keep them separate, wide sound stage, dynamic (good transients capability), punchy, and open outside-of-head sound perception.

Does Grado SR60i need a break-in period of XX or X hours? nope, no need for that despite some reviewers recommendations / claims (e.g. that “they suck in the beginning before you break them in..” is what I believe complete rubbish). Naturally, any speaker perform finer after some initial break-in period but in the case of Grado SR60i headphones the sign of refinement after the break-in period has not been so tangible and hence a break-in period not necessary.

Intended / Optimum usage environment

The open type Grado SR60i headphones are clearly intended for use in indoor and not-too-noisy environments.

How would I change Grado SR60i headphones? Improvement wishlist to Grado Labs

My first tweak with Grado SR60i headphones would be to replace its ear cushions with, probably, the Grado L-Cush Large Replacement Ear Cushions (check them out at the end of this post). According to some users, after replacement a small sonic improvement is achieved (e.g. tighter bass, and clearer mids and highs). The padded ones that comes with them are comfortable but hurting my ears, slightly, after an hour of usage.

So here is my wishlist to Grado Labs before the next iteration of Grado SR60i headphones:

  1. Replace the padded ear cushions with the likes of Grado G-Cush or L-Cush Large Replacement Ear Cushions
  2. Keep the retro look of the headphones, to differentiate the product from the mainstream competitors, but improve the material (e.g. plastic Cans and synthetic leather headband)
  3. Improve/change the way the cans are connected to the headband (read my note above:
    My first encounter with Grado SR60i headphones)


In short, the Grado SR60i headphones are the most valuable sub $100 entry ticket to the audiophile world. Highly recommended.

Test equipment and sound source material

Playback by Macbook (from 2008)

Grado SR60i headphones technical specifications (source:

Tranducer type: dynamic

Operating principle: open air

Frequency response: 20-20

SPL 1mV: 98

Normal impedance: 32ohms

Driver matched db: .1

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